Governor Signs House Bill 397

From left, Maxine Cormier, Governor John Bel Edwards, Ashley Shelton,
and State Representative John H. Bagneris

June 5, 2019
Contact: Peter Robins-Brown, 504-256-8196

PRESS RELEASE: Governor Signs House Bill 397! Defendants Who Can’t Afford to Pay Criminal Fines and Fees Will No Longer Have Their Driver’s Licenses Suspended

The Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, working in partnership with LA State Rep. John Bagneris, has helped remove a barrier keeping thousands of Louisianans trapped in cycles of criminalization and poverty

New Orleans, LA, June 5, 2019 – By signing House Bill 397 into law on Tuesday, June 4, Governor John Bel Edwards put Louisiana in line with a nationwide movement to eliminate the use of driver’s license suspensions as a tool to compel indigent defendants to pay criminal fines and fines.

Starting August 1, people who can’t afford to pay debts incurred through criminal fines and fees will still be free to find a job, and travel to and from work, without fear of further criminalization and penalties. The bill garnered strong bipartisan support, with the Senate voting 20-11 in favor, and the House passing it by a margin of 87-12.

Sponsored by Rep. John Bagneris, House Bill 397 is another major reform to Louisiana’s criminal justice system. Lisa Woodruff White, a member of the Executive Committee of the Louisiana District Judges Association, was vocal in stressing the importance of passing this measure. Maxine Cormier, a long-time Louisiana legislative expert and consultant to the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice (PCEJ), was also instrumental in ushering 397 through the legislature.

“This common sense measure restores people’s right to earn a living without having to constantly look over their shoulder,” said Cormier. “It’s an important step in the right direction.”

As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, statewide civic engagement table, PCEJ is deeply involved in several policy areas, including criminal justice reform. The organization brought the driver’s license suspension issue to Rep. Bagneris’ attention, who immediately understood its importance and became a strong champion for the reform.

“The fines and fees structure in Louisiana, which we use to fund our court systems, primarily on the backs of those who can least afford it, needs a lot of reform,” according to Ashley Shelton, Executive Director of PCEJ. “This will help us work toward fixing that systemic problem.”

The Power Coalition for Equity and Justice is a nonprofit, statewide civic engagement table. We are committed to increasing opportunities for communities by lifting up a vision of equity, voice, and power–and a path for getting there.